Venezuelans travel to Fatima with a plea for their country

Venezuela Flag Credit Anyul Rivas via Flickr CC BY 20 CNA 8 27 15 Venezuela Flag. | Anyul Rivas via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Jose Antonio dos Santos, an immigrant from Venezuela now living in Barcelona, made his way to Fatima for the centenary of the Marian apparitions with a special request for Our Lady: a solution for the dire crisis unfolding in his homeland.

Dos Santos, who held a large Venezuelan flag, told journalists May 13 that he came to Fatima to raise "the cry of a people and to ask the Virgin of Fatima the same thing that has come from her message 100 years ago, which was peace in Portugal and the freedom of a country that was oppressed."

When Mary appeared to three young shepherd children in 1917, she came in the midst of a world embroiled in war – both on a global scale during World War I, and on a more local scale in Portugal itself, which was in a period of instability after the revolution and coup d'état leading to the establishment of the First Portuguese Republic in 1910.

Roughly 220,000 Portuguese civilians died during the war, thousands due to food shortages, and thousands more from the Spanish flu.

"Now the same thing is happening in Venezuela," Dos Santos said, explaining that as he participates in the centenary celebrations of the Fatima Marian apparitions, he brings with him the petition for "a solution, above all for a country that is without medicine, without food."

"It's completely neglected in the entire country," he said, adding that he hoped his flag would be a visible appeal to Pope Francis, "who knows what it is to work on the peripheries."

Dos Santos is originally from Madeira, Venezuela, but has been living in Barcelona for 10 years. He was forced to immigrate to Spain along with his ailing mother and two sisters when the family could no longer access medicine for his mother's illness.

Riots have spiked in Venezuela in recent years, resulting from unemployment, food and medicine shortages, and President Nicolás Maduro's authoritarian policies.

Price controls in 2003 caused inflation rates to skyrocket on basic necessities, barring the access of food and medicines to the people. Poor socialist policies have affected many products, and while they remain affordable on the shelf, they are under-produced and are soon swept off and sold on the black market at a triple digit inflation rate.

Violent riots have fluctuated since the death of the previous president Hugo Chavez in 2013, but gained even more traction after opposition leaders were arrested last year and Maduro's attempt for more power by dissolving the legislature in March of this year.

Now working as a crewman for an airline company, Dos Santos said the situation in Venezuela has become "impossible."

The conditions that Venezuelans are living in today is inconceivable, he said, adding that "what the world knows about what is happening there is practically nothing" due to strict control of the media.

Javier Pereira, one of Dos Santos' three companions, said he appreciates the concern Pope Francis has shown for Venezuela, but voiced doubt that the nation's government is listening.

"The Pope always asks through prayer and dialogue, but unfortunately the government of Venezuela pretends to agree with what the Pope says, but what is really happening in Venezuela (is) completely different," Pereira said, explaining that the government is able to keep up the façade because they control the media.

"People don't know because the media is closed, and they don't publish. What is published is that yes, they want dialogue to be done, but what is happening, is not (dialogue)," he said.

Giving an example, Dos Santos said that Cardinal Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino of Caracas was once beaten inside the basilica of Santa Teresa for suggesting that opposition and government forces come to an understanding.

The cardinal had been celebrating Mass for the feast of the Nazareno de San Pablo, one of the biggest devotions in Venezuela, and simply said he hoped "there would be an understanding between people of the opposition and the government," Dos Santos said.

More in Europe

After Mass, a group of people came to into the sacristy and "they hit him inside the basilica and he had to be escorted out."

Media don't report on this type of incident, Dos Santos said, and so the only way people find out about it is through social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, "because the people are the ones using social communication."

What he wants to ask Our Lady of Fatima, then, is "for freedom and the peace of Venezuela," and that she would inspire "the governments of the countries that do not intervene" to help.

He said that should he get the opportunity, he would ask Pope Francis "to intercede as an authority, as an important figure, and to mediate, at least for now, a channel for medicine and food."

"This is why we wanted to come early and be first in line, so that form the altar he can understand the message," he said, pointing to his flag, which isn't merely a banner for Venezuela, but "it's a message from an entire country that cries out for freedom."

Pope Francis recently sent a message to the country's bishops, urging them to continue promoting a culture of encounter.

"Dear brothers, I wish to encourage you to not allow the beloved children of Venezuela to allow themselves to be overcome by distrust or despair since these are evils that sink into the hearts of people when they do not see future prospects," he said in a May 5 letter.

(Story continues below)

"I am persuaded that Venezuela's serious problems can be solved if there is the desire to establish bridges, to dialogue seriously and to comply with the agreements that were reached."

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.